Premier returns to Slaughters as US private equity firm takes slice of Hovis

Slaughter and May has taken a lead role in advising Premier Foods on the sale of a 51 per cent stake in British bread business Hovis to Gores Group.

Weil Gotshal & Manges advised US private equity firm Gores Group on the £30m deal.

For Slaughter and May it will be a welcome return for the institutional client, Premier Foods, which opted to instruct Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in its last major divestment when the group sold British sandwich filler Branston Pickle to a Japanese vinegar manufacturer Mizkan (30 October 2012).

The decision to use Freshfields as an “alternative top flight firm” for the latest divestment, said Premier Foods general counsel Andrew McDonald, was made in order to prepare for the possibility of Slaughters not being available for future deals (30 October 2012).

McDonald said at the time: “This deal was not one of our planned divestments and so presented the perfect opportunity to test someone else. Slaughters was also busy on other things for us at the time – they remain our main law firm for corporate and strategic advice.”

As the group’s go-to legal adviser for corporate work, Slaughters did not have to pitch for the mandate. Weil Gotshal advised longstanding client Gores Group, though it is not known if it went up against any other firms for the work. 

The Slaughters team was led by corporate partner Michael Corbett, who also led on Premier’s sale of its sweet spreads and jellies business to US buyer Hain Celestial in 2012 (23 August 2012). Weil Gotshal London corporate partner Jonathan Wood led for Los Angeles-based Gores Group.

The deal ends more than 125 years of British ownership for Hovis, which launched in 1886. It follows the sale of a number of Premier’s brands in 2012, including Hartleys jams and Elephant Atta flour, in a bid to slim down the group’s debt.

The company relies on a small external legal team focusing on corporate counsel Slaughters and pensions, property and employment adviser Wragge & Co.

As part of a company-wide efficiency drive, Premier’s general counsel was forced to cut legal costs in 2012, resulting in McDonald and his five-lawyer team taking most of the commercial work in-house (10 September 2012).